My maternal grandfather was born in 1890 in the Zhambyl region, now in the village of Talas. At a young age, before he could even grow strong, he became an orphan. As soon as this happened, relatives came and divided the inheritance among themselves. The 17-year-old boy had no one left who could share his sorrow, so he decided to get married. This was during the period of the first Russian revolution. At that time, typhus was rampant. The happiness of my grandfather did not last long, as the epidemic took away his wife and children. He himself barely survived after a long illness. As it turned out, you should not drink water when you have typhus, so my grandfather’s relatives tried to keep him away from water. In his memories of the illness, he told the following: «Once, when no one was home, I crawled to the bucket of water and drank it all, not leaving a single drop. Sweat poured off me and the dormant strength within me awakened again. Soon I recovered.» Who knows, maybe he thought that life would never be the same again, and if he were to die, he wanted to quench his thirst to the fullest. Whatever the case, he was not destined to die. Doomed to certain death, he considered losing all his hair and teeth insignificant compared to life itself. After surviving typhus, without cattle or family, he continued to exist among his relatives. He had no cattle or property to get married with. Moreover, his relatives were not eager to help him with that. Especially since at that time the revolution was in full swing, with everyone fighting for power, dividing into the Whites and the Reds, my grandfather was busy creating some conditions for life. At the age of twenty-eight, he had a romance with the second wife of one of the wealthiest residents of the village. They say she was a woman of unmatched beauty. You might think, what kind of love could there be? But the lovers, having conspired and knowing that their relatives would be against this union, decided to run away to the village of their cousin’s granddaughter. It is located in the modern Baydibek district of the Turkestan region. It was not difficult for their relatives to find them, as they had no one else but this relative. They held a trial for them: «Who does not make mistakes. We share the same blood. Let’s forgive. Come back home, be with your relatives. And this one will no longer be a wife. Returning her is a matter of honor. We will take you now, leave her to your conscience. And you go back home.» Do you think that «Baqytsyz Zhamal» and «Qalyń mal» fell from the sky? And in those times there were Kazakhs who put ambition above human feelings. However, they could not persuade my grandfather to give up this venture and return. Throughout his conscious life, he witnessed so much injustice and humiliation from his own relatives that, perhaps, he decided to start a new independent and happy life. And if it weren’t for this recurring pattern of relatives wanting to leave him with nothing again. Then perhaps he would never have dared to give up on them and stay with the beloved woman’s relative. The husband of that woman’s distant sister was a wealthy and kind-hearted man, he had risen from poverty on his own and his name was Boribek. His success is another story. And so, knowing the trouble his only niece had encountered, he helped them start a family and settle down. But just as my grandfather stood on his own feet and began to live a happy life as a husband and father, the famine of the 1930s came.
Misfortune did not come alone, and naturally, it did not pass by my grandfather. The tragedy that affected not only Kazakhs took away his wife and children. Again… Kazakhs say that dzhut (a disaster in steppe, semi-desert and desert regions in Mongolia and Central Asia in which large numbers of livestock die, primarily due to starvation being unable to graze due to particular severe climatic conditions) has seven lives. Brother-in-law also had troubles; the Soviet authorities repeatedly came and threatened to take away his cattle. As I mentioned before, he was a man who sacrificed a lot for his fellow countrymen and rose from poverty. These people were so grateful to him that a few times, when the Reds continued to visit, they came up with different ways to protect him. «He feeds all of us, what will we do without him,» they said. In their opinion, this rich man was different — not like the previous ones. But can tricks like these deceive the enemy? In the end, they took everything from him and took him away. However, in this area, there were resourceful men Kurmanbek and Kadrbek, who would transport everyone to neighboring Uzbekistan. The move was not easy; they carried adult women on their backs and showed the way to the rest. Thus, these two saved many from hunger. Among them was my grandfather. And so, living in Uzbekistan for a couple of years and sustaining life in his body, the famine finally ended. Many wanted to return to their homeland. Worried that this journey could be difficult, my grandmother’s father entrusted his family to my grandfather. «If I die, there will be no one to look after them, some Uzbek will take my daughter,» he said, and gave his 18-year-old daughter to my 48-year-old grandfather. And for the third time, my grandfather started his own family. He was 30 years older than his wife and 10 years older than his mother-in-law. The move was a difficult trial for their three-month-old daughter, who died in 1941. But despite all the hardships, they safely returned to their homeland, and a few years later, in 1944, my maternal grandfather was born, followed by six more daughters.
In 1957, his relatives from Zhambyl came again. At first, my grandfather was very happy and slaughtered a ram for the guests. But soon, his relatives started suggesting that he should return: «The past is in the past, what haven’t we seen? You are still our blood relative. Come back home. Be closer to us. Your wandering should not affect our lineage.» But can one forget the fact that they robbed him when he was a young man, and then did not allow him to marry his beloved? Remembering all this, my grandfather told them that he did not need such relatives, it was too late to think about honor, and he kicked them out of the house. And he did the right thing. What kind of honor are they talking about if every time they wanted to take everything from him? First his property, and then separate him from his beloved. And they come and talk about honor. Where is their humanity? And I think, even though almost half a century separates us, what kind of honor is worth more than the well-being of a human being?
While the Russians were overthrowing their tsars and having revolutions, and the world was at war and starving, my grandfather Altai was busy with his troubles and sorrows. He left behind one son and six daughters. He and his wife have already passed away. Their children and grandchildren are in good health and continue their family in peacetime.
P.S. Unfortunately, he does not have a single photograph. He was an educated and very righteous man, skilled in writing. Once his only son brought a photographer to capture a picture of his father as a memory. He noticed and scolded him, saying, «Do you have something against me? Do you want them to ask me about this on the other side?» My grandfather was so angry that after that incident, no one dared to repeat this idea again. Despite this, he left behind an amazing life story.
Author: Galymzhan Orazymbet
Translator: Diana Tsoy-Davis